It is always encouraging to see episcopal leadership on the important questions of our day. Particularly heartening is the courage of those bishops who eschew the lie of the naked public square. Catholic archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, New Jersey, is one of these Christian leaders. And in response to last week’s Lewis v. Harris decision, the archbishop released the following statement . It is a model of how Christians should bear out their political responsibilities and work towards the common good.
"I am saddened by the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Lewis v. Harris , which seeks to force the state to treat as marriages or the equivalent of marriages forms of sexual association that are inherently non-marital. In seeking to abolish the historic conjugal conception of marriage as the union of one man and one woman¯leaving to the legislature the possibility of reserving the word ‘marriage’ to male-female unions, but prohibiting it from preserving the substance of marriage as a conjugal union¯the justices have dealt a terrible blow to the institution of marriage and the family, to the principles of democratic self-government and religious freedom, and to child well-being in our state.
"Our state, like all states, has from the beginning recognized marriage, honored it, and sought to support and protect it. Yet marriage is not the creation of any state. It is a natural institution¯with its own characteristics and features¯that is prior to any particular political or legal system. While it is true, from a Catholic perspective, that Jesus elevated this natural institution to the level of the supernatural in establishing the sacrament of matrimony, this does not make marriage the creation of any religious community¯including the Catholic Church. This is why believers (from many diverse communities) and non-believers alike can understand and affirm the nature of the marital good and its centrality in a well-ordered society. It is why religious groups, despite their theological disagreements, recognize the validity of the conjugal marriages of people of other faiths.
"Even if marriage was a type of institution that could be redefined, it would not be up to a court to decide whether to redefine it. It is up to the people, working through the constitutionally established institutions of democratic deliberation, to settle such matters. For the people now to acquiesce in a usurpation of their rightful authority by a court would, in the words of President Lincoln, be for them to ‘resign their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.’ For the sake of constitutional democracy as well as for the sake of marriage itself, this ruling must not be permitted to stand.
"As many supporters of the idea of same sex ‘marriage’ (or its equivalent, using other words such as ‘civil union’ or ‘domestic partnership’) admit, the logic of their position points to the abolition of marriage as a socially normative institution. Anyone who teaches¯or preaches¯that marriage is an exclusive union of one man and one woman will be labeled a bigot. Anyone who teaches¯or preaches¯that sexual relations outside of marriage are sinful will be accused of intolerance. Anyone who teaches¯or preaches¯that sexual relations between a man and a man or a woman and a woman are morally wrong will be charged with prejudice. Anyone who teaches¯or preaches¯that children need a mom and a dad, and that two moms or two dads are not the same will be marginalized as an enemy of equality.
"And everyone knows what will soon follow: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious communities will come under intense political pressure and legal attack. By standing by their principled beliefs regarding marriage and sexual morality, they will be rendered vulnerable to laws prohibiting what advocates of sexual liberation and same-sex ‘marriage’ will insist is ‘discrimination.’ We have already seen this wherever same-sex relations have been given legal standing¯in Canada, in Sweden, and right here in the United States in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where four judges imposed same-sex marriage in an opinion now cited with approval by the New Jersey court. In Canada and Sweden pastors were prosecuted for preaching from the Bible about homosexuality. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was forced to abandon its 100-year-old program of helping to place children with adoptive parents. And this is just the beginning. As one legal scholar who advocates same-sex ‘marriage’ bluntly put it, religious liberty and sexual freedom will clash, and religious liberty will usually have to lose. Among the places it will lose, of course, is in schools, where children will be indoctrinated into the ideology of same-sex ‘marriage’ in open defiance of their parents’ beliefs.
"Lastly¯and most importantly¯the decision by the State Supreme Court is a blow to the interests of children, especially those already the least well off. The social scientific evidence on marriage, family structure, and child well-being is clear. And the universal consensus is that marriage and family structure matter crucially for children, and that the family structure that benefits children most is a marriage of two biological parents¯i.e. a married mom and dad. These findings have most recently been presented in a powerful document titled Marriage and the Public Good, and affirmed by many distinguished scholars in fields ranging from sociology and psychology to philosophy, law, and medicine. A Child Trends research brief put the matter in plain English: ‘Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two-biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes . . . . There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.’ The New Jersey Supreme Court ruling flies in the face of these findings, and ignores the important social function that the institution of marriage plays in uniting moms and dads and their kids.
"Recognizing the national threat to marriage from courts such as ours in New Jersey, religious leaders from across the United States and encompassing a breadth of religious diversity recently joined together in calling for a federal marriage amendment. I was proud to stand with these leaders. I joined their call precisely out of concern about what courts like the New Jersey Supreme Court would impose upon us; now that fear has proved all-too-well grounded. So it is with still greater resolve that today I pledge myself to work with my fellow Catholics, with leaders of other religious communities, and with people of every faith to rectify the harms done by this ill-advised ruling. For the common good of our state, I ask Catholics to join hands with Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other traditions of faith to work together to amend our state constitution to reverse this damaging decision."